Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time - Why Superheroes Endure

Welcome to the CatholicSkywalker list of the Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time.

I am not an expert on much, but if there is one area where I think I have some insight and competency it should be in the synergistic fusion of the superhero genre and the art of film.

In other words, I am a certified comic book nerd and film geek.

Critics keep talking about "Superhero movie fatigue," where the glut of films in this genre will eventually lead to the general public losing interest.  While this is something that may eventually happen, I do not see it occurring any time soon.  The reason why is that super hero films capture a purely cinematic experience.

Here are some reasons why since 2000, superhero movies continue to dominate.

1.  Spectacle.
Most superheroes are lifted from comic books, which is a genre which has to create strong, dynamic visuals without the advantage of motion.  In that sense, the characters and stories come pre-charged with a kinetic energy that works well in cinema.  The characters are already iconic.  They also lend themselves to the visual spectacle that has defined the modern blockbuster.  Twenty years ago, characters like the Hulk or Iron Man would just look silly.  Now the technology matches the imagination of the genre.

2.  Traditional Morality.
In a world that is increasingly slipping down the hole of moral relativism, the superhero genre stands in the breach.  No, not every superhero is a paragon of virtue.  But for the most part the genre is about a person understanding that there is good and evil in the world and that in order to prevent evil from spreading, good people must stand and sometimes fight.  There are exceptions like the deconstructionist Watchmen.  But I would even argue that Captain America: Civil War, with its hero-on-hero violence, is ultimately about people doing their best to follow their conscience.  These movies don't have to espouse a bland black-and-white morality with no ambiguity.  But the genre tends to point to the universal trait of heroism: self-sacrifice for the good of the other.

3.  Taking the Genre Seriously.
Before Bryan Singer's X-Men, Hollywood didn't take superheroes seriously.  There were, of course, exceptions.  But most studios considered the genre either juvenile or based merely on dumb shows of brightly colored special effects.  This isn't to say that superhero film should be devoid of humor.  But even the incredibly funny Guardians of the Galaxy still took the internal drama of its characters seriously so that we were invested in the steaks and heartache of the characters.  Watch Batman and Robin or the Shaquille O'Neil classic Steel and you will find filmmakers who treat their properties with pandering kid-gloves.  By taking the genre seriously, it opens the audience to greater investment in the characters and allows them to follow on the journey.

4.  Cinematic Universes
Many critics decry the creation of the myriad crossover films that constitute a cinematic universe.  But there is a reason why these franchises spawn so much success.  One of the reason Soap Operas endure is because people become attached to characters and desire to spend more time with them in their stories.  By taking the genre seriously, audiences connect to the characters.  This creates a desire to see them in more and more stories.  And by interweaving them with other stories, the sum becomes greater than the parts.  Each movie can begin to feel like a window into a large, epic story.  How great is it that you could be watching a movie not staring Batman, but have him appear for a few awesome scenes?  Cinematic Universes are born primarily in the superhero genre.

5.  Great Talent
Even though most movie critics do not take the genre seriously (how many have been nominated for Best Picture), there is still an amazing talent pool involved.  Even leaving out the outliers like Christopher Nolan, some fantastic visual storytellers have been chosen to bring superheroes to life: Richard Donner, Zack Snyder, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, The Russo Brothers, Sam Raimi, Brad Bird, Kenneth Bragnagh, Tim Burton, Ben Affleck, and many others.  And the casting has also been superb in many cases.  I could not imagine another actor taking some of these iconic roles: Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool.  And even when a character has been played by multiple people they often choose excellent actors.  As long as they keep making the investment in talent, the superhero movie should be around for a long time.

All of the movies chosen on this list will be about superheroes.  Not all will have their origins in comic books.  Conversely, this is not a list of greatest comic book movies because there are many comics that are not superhero based.  And many of these have their own film adaptations.  Also, these movies will based on characters created during and after the 20th century, so classic heroes like Hercules and Sinbad will not be included.

Also, this list will ultimately be fluid as more and more films are being added to this genre every year.

Tune in next week as we begin our countdown to the top 25 Superhero movies of all time.

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